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Policy Brief: Another Kick in the Teeth: Loan Limits and the Housing Market

By and / 9.13.2011

For weeks, August 2—the date on which the U.S. Treasury might have defaulted on its debts—was the deadline that drove policymakers toward a deal on raising the debt ceiling and lowering the nation’s spiraling debt and deficits.

Another pending deadline—October 1—has won far less attention. But it too could have far-reaching impacts on the U.S. economy if Congress allows it to expire.

This date is when the maximum size of a mortgage loan (the “loan limit”) that can be insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) or bought by government-sponsored mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the GSE’s) drops significantly. On October 1, these loan limits will fall in 669 counties in 42 states and the District of Columbia, with an average reduction of more than $50,000 and in some cases by more than $100,000. In these areas, many prospective homebuyers once eligible for an FHA loan would no longer qualify, while others may face the prospect of a higher-cost “jumbo” loan.

The result could be the potential sidelining of a key segment of homebuyers, which in turn would further weaken demand, depress home prices and drop another wet blanket on consumer confidence as Americans continue to watch their home equity evaporate. Needless to say, this is the last thing the housing market or the economy needs as it struggles toward recovery.

Without question, government should ultimately pare back its involvement in the housing market and let private capital play the leading role. But this should also happen when the markets are ready, not according to an arbitrary timetable. Unfortunately, the initial conditions that warranted the current loan limits in the first place have not improved substantially. Nor does it seem private sources are ready to jump in if government support were to end.

Read the entire brief.